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Rep. Adam Schiff Weighs In On Russian Hacking Evidence


As the new year begins, the outgoing and incoming administrations are dueling over whether or not Russia tried to influence the U.S. presidential election. Over the weekend, Donald Trump continued to cast doubt on President Obama's conclusion that Russia hacked and directed the leak of Democratic Party emails. This week, a U.S. Senate Committee opens hearings. Members of the House of Representatives are also looking into the matter.

California Congressman Adam Schiff is one of them. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and he joins me now. Congressman Schiff, thanks for being with us.

ADAM SCHIFF: It's great to be with you.

MARTIN: The Trump camp keeps saying that the intelligence community's final report on the Russian hacking allegations isn't even done, so how can the president-elect come to a conclusion? How are you so sure?

SCHIFF: Well, the evidence is very, very strong, and I think this is the consensus of the Democrats and Republicans on the Intelligence Committees. You know, we view, obviously, a variety of intelligence, different sources, different methods of gathering it, and none of us have a question really about Russia's involvement in the hacking of our institutions and the dumping of data. There may be some varied views about the mixture of motivations for their doing so, but there's no question that the Russians were responsible for this.

MARTIN: Isn't it difficult to track down the actual genesis of a computer hack? I mean, is the intelligence that you're seeing such that it can confirm at that level?

SCHIFF: It is. And, you know, certainly the Russians are among the most sophisticated cyber actors in the world and they do their best to hide their trail, sometimes more successfully than others, but we've gotten very good at attribution. It's something that the intelligence community takes very seriously and has invested a lot of time and resources in.

And sometime you can be, you know, quite certain about attribution, and I think the level of confidence here is very high. You don't have a statement issued publicly of the kind that the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Homeland Security issued in early October unless they're very, very confident in the evidence they've seen.

MARTIN: After President Obama issued sanctions on Russia last week over this alleged attack, your chairman, Congressman Devin Nunes, issued a tough statement. He said his committee had been urging the president for years to take strong action against Russia for its aggression around the world. Do you think President Obama should have acted sooner?

SCHIFF: I do think the president should have acted sooner on this, and I was urging the administration months ago to begin discussions with our European allies that have also been the subject of Russian meddling to impose sanctions and costs on Russia, to establish a deterrent.

And I think the steps the president took recently are important, but they should only be viewed as a first step. And I think, indeed, both Democrats and Republicans feel this way, that we need stronger action against Russia or we're likely to see more of this kind of cyber-meddling in the future.

MARTIN: Are you confident the Republican-led Congress can get to the bottom of this? I mean, you're calling for a joint special committee from the Senate and House intel committees to take this up, and it does - at this point, that seems unlikely.

SCHIFF: It does seem unlikely, which is unfortunate because I think the significance of what the Russians did, it really warrants a kind of a joint inquiry, like we did after 9/11. I also think it avoids a lot of duplication of effort by having the same agencies come to both House and Senate and potentially come to many committees in both House and Senate.

But I'm going to push as hard as I can within the Intelligence Committee to do a thorough and objective investigation. If that's the only venue where it takes place in the House, then that's what we'll do.

MARTIN: What are you hearing behind closed doors from your Republican colleagues about all this?

SCHIFF: You know, I don't think, as I mentioned, any of them have any question about Russian involvement. And so for this - on this point, I think Donald Trump is very much on his own and I'll be interested, I know, as my colleagues will be, in hearing this supposed news that Donald Trump has that he's going to share either today or tomorrow, things that evidently he has special sources of information about because none of us can imagine what that could be.

But again, you know, I think while we've had a lot of discussions about how much of this was oriented to hurting Secretary Clinton, how much of this was about helping Donald Trump, how much was it - something about getting Americans to fight Americans and sowing discord in our country, there may be differences of view in the shading of their motivations and, like many people, many countries, have a variety of motivations for what they do. But the fundamental agreement between Democrats and Republicans is this wasn't China, this wasn't some fat guy in his bed. This was the Russians.

MARTIN: Just briefly, we have to ask you about the House Republicans voting last night to weaken the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics. What do you make of that?

SCHIFF: Well, not much of an effort to drain the swamp here when, in the middle of the night, on a holiday weekend, they effectively eviscerate the outside independence watchdog, but not surprising. You often see, as we know, that absolute power leads to abuse, and here it's led to abuse very early.

MARTIN: Congressman Adam Schiff of California, he's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, thank you so much for your time.

SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.